Class A District preview: Niles at Mattawan tonight

Published 8:56 am Monday, March 4, 2013

Tate Brawley and the Niles boys basketball team will open up Class A District play tonight at Mattawan. (Leader photo/File)

Tate Brawley and the Niles boys basketball team will open up Class A District play tonight at Mattawan. (Leader photo/File)

Todd Pawielski is convinced his Niles Vikings might just be playing their best basketball of the season.

And it couldn’t be happening at a better time.

On the heels of a big road win last Friday at Kalamazoo Central, the Niles boys basketball team opens Class A district tournament play tonight at Mattawan, where the Vikings will face a team to whom they lost a pair of close games during the regular season.

In both of those games, Niles led the Wildcats deep into the fourth quarter but was unable to salvage victory in either contest.

“We have to guard somebody when it matters,” Pawielski said. “We have lost 4-5 games this year when we were up with three minutes, or less, to play. We just seem to be unable to get a stop when the game’s on the line. That’s been distressing.”

But over the last two weeks, Niles doubled its win-total with victories over South Bend Riley, Portage Northern and Kalamazoo Central. The Vikings also took state-ranked Lakeshore down to the final few possessions, before falling short.

“We’re playing pretty well the last couple of weeks,” Pawielski added. “I feel like our district is as wide-open as we have seen in a long time. State- or nationally-ranked Kalamazoo Central’s not lurking out there any more. I think St. Joe and Portage Central would be slight favorites, but I think it’s anybody’s district to win.”

Senior Alec Brown leads the Vikings in scoring at slightly more than 21 points per game, but Pawielski was quick to mention a handful of other players who have helped lead Niles to additional success late in the season.

“(Junior) Tate (Brawley) has really become a force for us in the lane,” Pawielski said. “Everybody talks about his 3-point shot, and it’s very solid, but he’s done a great job rebounding on both ends of the floor and we’ve also been able to throw it inside to him for some points.

“(Senior) Mitchell Dehn has been solid, defensively. Connor Glick and Jeremy Wortham have come a long way as juniors since the season began and our bench has been providing us with solid minutes.”

If the Vikings are to advance to Wednesday’s semifinal game against the winner of the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix-Portage Northern quarterfinal, they must find a way to provide better defense in transition against Mattawan and contain sophimore Darek Ditto.

“We’ve had trouble defending (Mattawan) in transition,” Pawielski said. “We haven’t identified shooters deep in the corner. We haven’t spaced the floor well enough, defensively, and they have made some buckets they haven’t earned. They were able to catch and shoot it for wide-open jump shots.

“(Ditto) is an all-league player as a sophomore that has given us trouble. We’ve had trouble containing him in the lane.

“We have our work cut out for us, but we should be right there.”

St. Joseph will face Kalamazoo Central in the third Monday quarterfinal, with the winner advancing Wednesday to face Portage Central. The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Mattawan.